At the risk of falling into the “mad black woman” trope, I need to say this: I’m mad. I’m mad about being afraid to walk my dog in my neighborhood in the morning. The morning. Most people in urban communities feel cautious about walking alone at night or late evening. OK, that makes sense. But in the morning!
I see the first hours of day as a time of newness, awakening, peacefulness. But, no. In the hood at 9:30 a.m. brothers are standing on the corner–waiting.
Waiting for what?
My frustration with the state of my neighborhood prompted me to write this list.
1. DO have a strategy in the hood.
I walk my family’s shih tzu in the morning. We take different routes, but we usually end up in the nearby park. I decided to stop taking the route that passes the neighborhood corner store because there are often people standing outside of it. Especially as warmer days start to shake residents from their winter lethargy, more and more people–mostly teen and adult men–start loitering at the doors of the store.
2. DON’T be a woman in the hood.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received an unwarranted, unsolicited “holla.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Can I play my guitar for you?” (No really. A man dressed like a 70s pimp really said this to me. And yes, he was carrying a guitar, but it’s all in the tone.)
Can’t I just be a woman minding her own business, going about the order of her day in her neighborhood without feeling like she’s being hunted?
3. DO know your colors in the hood.
I am admittedly lacking some hood knowledge. Could the colors of my grey, black and red sweatshirt mean something? The thought never crossed my mind before. Can I not wear those colors?
While wearing that sweatshirt during my morning walk, a police vehicle passed by. Did that officer think something of my sweatshirt? Did he or she only see colors or did they actually read the words?
4. DON’T be black in the hood.
What do people in my neighborhood see when they see me? Do they see a college graduate? A traveler? A vegetarian? What do the police officers see? Do they see another black girl with dread locs? Do they see a troublemaker or a statistic?
Sometimes it feels like no matter who you are, if you live in the hood you are not seen as an individual, but simply a number. Another black person living in a struggling community–a community just blocks away from one of the most renowned universities in my world, might I add. Think about it.
But I’m also challenged to ask myself: What do I really see when I see the brother in the snapback and baggy jacket standing on the corner? What do I really see when I see the police officer rolling slowly by glaring out the window?
It’s easy to feel offended or scared when I think of myself as the target and others as villains. Maybe I’m just as influenced by mainstream perspectives (which often feel a lot like propaganda) surrounding blacks living in the hood as anyone else. Maybe I’m no better than the police officer rolling by who may (or may not) be judging the residents in my neighborhood by their hair, clothes, skin or the time of day. Maybe I’m also not taking enough time to see beyond the facade.
5. DO vote in the hood.
The shame of poor communities of color is not only drugs, prostitution, crime, struggling schools and underdevelopment, but also the lack of voters.
My ward was one of many Chicago wards who had low voter turnout during the Feb. 24 municipal election. I am still registered to vote in my previous neighborhood (I must get this changed soon). Because of that, I do not have a voice in who receives political leadership in my current community. But I do vote. I vote because I think it’s important to let my concerns be heard and give leadership responsibilities to people I think can best improve my city and my community. I also think that if residents in my community want to see change, besides creating it on an individual and familial level, they have to vote.
Tomorrow, April 7, is the mayoral and aldermanic runoff election. If you weren’t one of the thousands who voted early, please take the opportunity to vote. It’s time for us to live, not just survive.